Boundaries of truth   (25 Jul 2008)

A recent book by Pakistani journalist Shuja Nawaz has made startling revelations about the inclination of NDA government to divide Jammu and Kashmir and surrender a part to Pakistan. Shuja is the younger brother of Pakistan’s former army chief Asif Nawaz. In his book, ‘Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within’, Shuja notes that India’s then foreign minister Jaswant Singh had agreed to redraw the boundaries in Jammu & Kashmir on the basis of rivers flowing in the state, during bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz.

Had this formula been finally put to use, a large part of Jammu would have merged with the valley and given away to Pakistan. This would have marked a completely unacceptable turnaround from India’s stated position that Kashmir is an integral part of Indian state. As it appears, the NDA government was willing to concede a lot of ground in its efforts to make peace with Pakistan.

Remarkably, several questionable concessions litter our Pakistan policy during the NDA regime. In 1999, Vajpayee became the first Indian Prime Minister to endorse the state of Pakistan by signing the visitor’s book at Minar-e-Pakistan. He also became the first Indian head of state to admit Kashmir was an issue between India and Pakistan, which needed be resolved through bilateral talks.

According to Shuja’s book, Jaswant Singh was authorized to initiate permanent resolution of Kashmir with Pakistan’s foreign minister, and the two even made progress in agreeing to divide the state. Their talks had to be aborted after war broke over Kargil.

There are other pointers to suggest that the NDA government had a largely whimsical approach to its dealings with Pakistan and cross-border terrorism. In private conversations with me, many Pakistani politicians have lamented that they miss the benevolence of the NDA government, compared to the hardball attitude of the UPA government. Even Lal Krishna Advani has confessed in his book that despite his being the Home Minister, he never came to know who had authorized Jaswant Singh to escort the captured terrorist Maulana Masood to safe havens out of India.

There could possibly be more skeletons waiting to tumble out of NDA’s cupboard, but nothing could be more shocking than its willingness to buy peace over Kashmir by dividing up the state. We do not know if Shuja’s claims are true, but the government clearly owes a clarification on this issue to the Indian people.

Rajeev Shukla